Maryland, My Democratic Maryland
There's a scene in the West Wing where a Republican lawyer explains why he clerked for a liberal Supreme Court Justice. Basically, he says that debating with the Justice helped to clarify his own views. Blair Lee does that for me. Every Saturday morning, after reading his column, I spend a good twenty minutes stomping around the house, outraged. Usually my wife gets to hear a diatribe about how utterly wrong Lee is. And afterwards I find that I'm better at articulating what I believe. But my wife's in Houston, so today, this diatribe's for you.
Lee argues in today's column that the Maryland Republican Party is not nearly as dead as everyone thinks. He points out that this year's election was nationalized, and the main reason people like Howie Denis, Jean Cryor, and Sandy Schrader lost was George W. Bush. This is true. But it doesn't, as Lee suggests, mean that an election in a more neutral political year will give the Republicans a chance to surge back. Among the casualties in this last election, people like Denis, Cryor, and Schrader, were most if not all of the Maryland Republican Party's moderate wing. For all the talk about the 'Oh my God, a Republican won!' victory of Bob Ehrlich in 2002, people forget that he is a moderate. As long as the Maryland Republican Party is run by conservative, Book of Revelations-thumping, get-rid-of-all-government firebrands, then the Demcoratic monopoly will never end.
Lee also turns to his fallback pro-Republican argument that we need a strong Republican party in the state because, in the words of our soon to be gone Governor of Talk Radio, "I believe competition in the marketplace of ideas is good for the state." I'm pinching myself as I say this to make sure I'm not hallucinating, but that's an idea I actually agree with. We do need debate, real debate. But the last four years of Bobby's reign haven't involved real debate. They've mostly involved the Governor tossing rhetorical bombs at the legislature through the media. And, in any case, it's way too simplistic to think that the only possibility for debate in a democratic society is between two parties.
The Maryland Democratic Party is about as ideologically diverse a party as you can get without it becoming a fistfight. There's a strong progressive wing, led by people like Bethesda's Senator Frosh. Rural democratic conservatives like Senator Middleton are still very powerful. Strong Democratic delegations come from almost every part of the state, from city to suburb to the farms of the Eastern Shore and southern Maryland. There will be a marketplace of ideas. But it will happen within one party rather than between two. And maybe, in the end, that's good for Maryland. After all, few people would rank the last four years as among the most productive in the history of state government. So maybe, with Republicans lacking any meaningful influence, and with Ehrlich as a cautionary tale for Democrats, we'll see some real work getting done.